Armed with a licence to kill, Secret Agent James Bond sets out on his first mission as 007 and must defeat a weapons dealer in a high stakes game of poker at Casino Royale, but things are not what they seem.
Shaken or stirred? Do I look like I give a damn?
‘Casino Royale‘ marks the return to director’s duties for Martin Campbell of ‘Goldeneye‘ fame, again entrusted by the producers to kickstart the Bond franchise for a second time after the success of ‘Goldeneye‘, but this time Bond’s story is rebooted. Bond Begins if you will. Daniel Craig became the sixth actor to take on the mantle of the world’s most famous spy, a casting decision which was met with derision in some quarters by fans who thought him too blond and too ugly to play 007! However, the pre-title sequence takes us back to the beginning of Bond’s career via grainy black and white footage depicting Bond’s first two kills (earning him his double ‘0’s) and quickly dispelling any lingering doubts about Craig’s suitability for the part.
The story is an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel of the same name, previously only seen on the big screen in the shape of Ken Hughes’ 1967 David Niven starring parody. From the off we’re presented with a much more visceral interpretation of Bond (it could be argued owing more than a passing nod to the Jason Bourne series, forcing the Bond producers to up their game), a stunning chase and fight with bomb maker Mollaka (played by French free runner Sebastian Foucan), highlights just what a physically imposing presence this Bond is, even against a more lithe and mobile enemy. Bond bulldozes his way through the scenery whilst his opponent makes seemingly impossible progress across a building site, ending with an explosive confrontation at the Nambutu embassy.
The plot involves Bond discovering the existence of a leading ‘banker’ who launders money for terrorist organisations around the world. ‘M’ sends Bond to a poker game in Montenegro in an attempt to bankrupt Le Chiffre thereby forcing him to inform on his employers and to seek protection from MI6 from those whose money he has gambled away in the stock markets and at the poker table. During the course of the film we’re introduced to the ‘Quantum’ organisation which appears to be an umbrella group for other criminal and terrorist organisations, apparently headed by the enigmatic Mr. White, played by Jesper Christensen. Mads Mikkelsen plays the villainous money launderer Le Chiffre, replete with requisite Bond villain scar and accompanying blood weeping eye, just in case we were in any doubt as to just how sinister a character he is.
Bond is accompanied on his mission by the beautiful yet spiky Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), an agent with a similar family background to Bond’s. The pair indulge in some amateur psychology during their first meeting, taking it in turns to psychoanalyse the other with some entertaining verbal sparring. Bond certainly meets his match in Vesper and with echoes of the Tracey relationship in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service‘, we see Bond ‘stripped of his armour’, willing to resign from MI6 to be with her. The importance of the Vesper character throughout Craig’s Bond films can’t be stressed highly enough, she essentially shapes the 007 he becomes and explains why he is such a cold killer. Eva Green brings so much to the role, displaying both vulnerability and strength and is thoroughly convincing as the woman that finally tames Bond.
The other main woman in Bond’s life is ‘M’, Dame Judi Dench returns to the role (Bond almost let slips her name when he muses “I thought ‘M’ was just a randomly assigned letter, I had no idea it stood for…”) and once again the relationship that exists between the head of MI6 and her top field agent is extremely prickly. She’s joined by Tanner, her Chief of Staff (Rory Kinnear) and a brief appearance from Tim Piggot-Smith as the man from the ministry who typically is only interested in servicing British interests regardless of the backgrounds of those countries they do business with. Another returning character is that of CIA agent Felix Leiter, this time played by Jeffrey Wright – he turns out to be a useful ally to Bond, not least because he helps to bankroll Bond’s poker games when Le Chiffre appears to have the upper hand. Bond is also assisted by Mathis, an Italian agent played by Giancarlo Giannini, who acts as a narrator for the audience explaining how Bond is fairing during the various hands of poker.
‘Casino Royale‘ adopts a number of the staples of the Bond series, not least the jet setting as 007 pursues leads across a number of glamorous locations, from Paradise Island in the Bahamas to Miami and Lake Como in Italy. It feels much more grown up compared to the more whimsical Brosnan films, closer in tone to Dalton’s Bond albeit Craig seems a lot more comfortable in the role, but it does lay on the product placement a bit thick with seldom an opportunity missed to plug a certain Japanese electronics company’s products, such is the way with the modern Bond films.
Daniel Craig wastes no time in making the role his own, this is a no-nonsense Bond with both brawn and charisma, a welcome and much needed change in direction following on from the disappointing Brosnan era. Martin Campbell’s second stint in the directorial chair is much more successful than his earlier effort, really capturing the essence of Fleming’s Bond and setting up the series well with this return to Bond’s beginnings.
Review by Mark Thatcher
Directed By: Martin Campbell
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, Simon Abkarian, Caterina Murino, Ivana Milicevic, Isaac de Bankole, Jesper Christensen, Sebastien Foucan and Tobias Menzies